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atheism, Christianity in Politics, Current Events

Do I reject secular government?

Recently, Austine Cline, of the about.com breed of atheists, has offered this critique of my position on Christian voting/acts in government. My own post on the topic can be found here. I would like to clear up a few things about the position I hold. These clarifications will be found in numbered italics throughout the post below.

1) I accept the authority and respect the secular government.

Cline started his caricature of my position immediately with his title. The title of his entry is “J.W. Wartick: Christians Should Reject Secular Government.”

Let me make this clear. That is a position I deny, and in fact oppose. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 13:5-7 that “it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” Being a Christian who views the Bible as a source of authority, I agree wholeheartedly.

2) My previous post on the government was intended as a wake-up call to Christians who are lax when voting on moral issues.

One who reads my previous post on this topic should be able to discern that I was not advocating a theocracy, but rather a theo-centric approach to voting. I was arguing that Christians should vote their beliefs, not what they think is most “neutral.” Cline took that and ran with it, and, whether intentionally or not, used his post to try to portray me as some kind of fanatic advocating the overthrow of government in favor of a theocracy. Again, such a position may exist somewhere, but it is not the position I hold.

3) The authority of government comes from God.

Again, Paul makes this clear in Romans 13:1 “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”

Obviously, this won’t be convincing to the atheist. But this is intended to rebut a critique from Cline, who wrote, “[Wartick’s argument] presumes that the government has any authority to prevent ‘unrepentant sin’ and ‘unbelief’ in the first place.”

Clearly, if the government gets its authority from God, then it would have the authority to do this. Cline is an atheist, so he rejects such a structure of authority. However, being a Christian, I don’t see any reason to reject it. Yet the focus of Cline’s critique was based upon this premise (in fact, he restates it later “On what basis does Wartick think he has the right to enlist the government to help him prevent other Christians from doing things which he thinks is sinful but they don’t?” and then again in regards to other religions).

My answer to these questions is simple: the government gets its authority from God, so it does have the authority to do these things. Cline presented no argument to the contrary, nor did he offer a positive argument for secular government, other than a brief note that Christians established it to begin with so they would stop killing each other (according to Cline). So Cline’s counter-argument merely begs the question by assuming a secular authority structure. If there were no God or if the authority of the government were not from God, then he would have a valid critique. But criticizing my argument in this manner does not serve to do anything but beg the question against the Christian theist, particularly because my original post was written to fellow Christians (hence the closing line, “Christians, why are you politically atheists?”).

4) Cline misrepresented my argument.

As I’ve already hinted at, Cline cherry-picked portions of my post, and then made a title which seems to aim more towards sensationalism than any kind of respectful debate. I never argued Christians should reject secular government; I did argue that Christians should not be atheists themselves when it comes to politics. This kind of fear-mongering about Christians in politics doesn’t serve anyone but those who are already fanatics themselves–to the other extreme.

SDG.

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

9 thoughts on “Do I reject secular government?

  1. You defend your position by quoting the apostle Paul to the effect that all Christians should “submit to the authorities,” and “the authorities that exist have been established by God.”

    If this is true, were the Founders of the American Republic in rebellion against God?

    In 1776, it was a settled matter among Christian theologians that the monarchs of the world ruled by divine right. The people obeyed the king and the king represented Christ on Earth. Therefore, King George III, monarch of England and Defender of the Faith, was God’s representative on earth to the North American colonists.

    Therefore, in declaring their independence from George III’s authority, the Founders were in rebellion against their rightful monarch, and therefore against the God he represented on Earth.

    Furthermore, the Founders established a constitutional republic, and this Constitution specified all states under that Constitution were to have a republican form of government. A republic bases its authority on the interests and will of the citizens, and exists to carry forward those interests and that will; it could not care less about what God thinks. It is the citizens who rule, not God.

    So under Paul’s theology of politics, and under your definition of “theo-centric politics,” (which differs from theocracy how, again?) The American Republic was founded in rebellion against God, and the Founders, in establishing a constitutional republic, were heretics.

    So do you consider the American Republic and its Constitution opposed to God?

    Do you consider the authority of the American Constitution illegtimate?

    Posted by deadweasel | May 31, 2011, 10:45 PM
    • A thoughtful comment. Thank you!

      I think it wouldn’t be too untoward of me to say that you had two central questions:
      1) “do you consider the American Republic and its Constitution opposed to God?”

      My answer: No.

      2) “Do you consider the authority of the American Constitution illegtimate [sic]?”

      My answer: I’ll answer like Jesus did to those asking a very similar question in Luke 20: “Give to the United States what is hers, give to God what is God’s.”

      An interesting and related question would be: “Where do you think the authority of the American Constitution comes from?” (More on that below.)

      I’d like to make a few notes: first that the whole of these two posts have been arguing from the assumed position of Christianity. Cline clearly missed that in his critique, and I hope you won’t. The first post (“Why are Christians politically atheistic?“) was written specifically to Christians, not to everyone.

      The difference between theocracy and theo-centrism is that I’m advocating that Christians ‘put their money where their mouth is’ and vote as if they were Christians and not atheists. Theocracy, by definition, would be ruling by direct divine authority. Usually they are set up by having priests or other religious officials in charge of the government. Please point out where I have advocated that view. All that I have argued is that Christians should vote their beliefs.

      I find it a bit strange and perhaps even disconcerting that atheists would get so up-in-arms about this. Cline, for example, wrote that ” It cannot be emphasized enough that this argument, in the end, is about restricting people’s personal liberties.” Well, okay, if that’s what it’s about, shouldn’t I have the liberty to vote for whatever position I desire?

      But Cline, in this endeavor, can hide behind a slippery term like “personal liberties.” I mean, what does the term mean? Surely Cline wouldn’t mind restricting the ‘liberties’ of a rapist or pedophile. What about the sociopath whose actions involve no more than torturing small animals? Should their liberties be interfered with?

      Cline seems to think he can fall back on the Constitution. In response to my comments on his post, he answered my question, ‘Whence the power of government’ with “Answered in the Constitution.” Yet where does the power of the Constitution come from? I’d imagine it would be the people. But where does their power come from? It isn’t until we assume a kind of pseudo-theistic ontology of personal rights and value that we can get from point A to point B (here meaning the power of the Constitution for governance from the people). But that’s a whole different debate.

      Finally, as mentioned before, the intent of the previous post was to question Christians who were not voting with their beliefs. But what does an atheistic critique of this look like? Well if someone wants to criticize me for suggesting people vote what they believe, more power to them! I am merely promoting people use their personal liberties to vote as they feel. Should others (Jews, Buddhists, atheists, etc.) vote what they believe? Well, I should hope so! Otherwise we really would be talking about a matter of liberty. Unfortunately, it is the Christian who gets attacked for saying this. All I’ve asserted is that “Christians should vote their beliefs.” I shall allow anyone to argue against this contention.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | May 31, 2011, 11:20 PM
      • Thank you for your reply.

        You answered “No” to my question “do you consider the American Republic and its Constitution opposed to God?” What is your justification for that answer?

        If what Paul said about earthly authority is correct, George III was God’s appointed authority on Earth, and the American colonists, in declaring independence from that authority, were declaring independence from God’s authority. Therefore, the American Republic, and the Constitution establishing it, rejected God’s authority, and like Lucifer, were in rebellion against God. Is my analysis in error?

        You responded to my question “Do you consider the authority of the American Constitution illegitimate” (sorry for the spelling error; I don’t have many opportunities to use that word in a sentence) with a quote from Jesus, which failed to address my point: according to Paul, authority comes from God; according to our Constitution it comes from the people, and the people alone. It was the people who established it, fought for it, worked for it, sweated for it, and because of that they alone are the source of its authority. One of these positions must be wrong; is it Paul’s, or the Founders’?

        Posted by deadweasel | June 1, 2011, 12:58 AM
      • I answered no to the first question because I wanted to keep the answer simple as opposed to diving into the historical-grammatical context of Romans 13. Romans 13 was (clearly) written to the Romans. Now some of the problems the Christians were facing throughout the Roman Empire were 1) The fact that they were meeting ‘in secret’ was technically illegal–the Romans saw this as subversive. We can see this in the writings of Pliny, for example. 2) They rejected the Emperor cult. 3) they were not protected by being a branch of Judaism (after a certain point).

        Because of these, it was very important for Paul to make sure the Romans knew that Christians were not planning some kind of rebellion. Thus, we get a passage like Romans 13. Paul was addressing (in a letter, mind you) a specific situation at a specific time. But does that mean it only applied to them? Christians have almost never taken it to mean only those Roman Christians need to submit to the authorities. But does Paul allow any possibility of going against the government? Well again, we must remember what the Roman government was like: Paul was specifically writing about them. In chapter 13 he seems to imply that the government was adequately carrying out its duties of punishing the evil and permitting the good (cf. verse 3, 6). Yet that doesn’t mean that Paul meant one could never rebel against the governing authorities. In fact, one can see this when he says that one should be in subjection to the government…. for the sake of conscience. Yet governments like Nazi Germany, for example, could be opposed ‘for the sake of conscience.’ Not only that, but he also says that we should give to each his ‘due’ or what we ‘owe’ them. Would we owe these things to an evil government? Did Paul outline rules for determining when/how one can/should rebel? No, because his intention was to tell the Roman Christians to submit, and to put the Roman authorities at ease.

        This is why it is extremely important to know the historical contexts of verses instead of just reading them and commenting fast and furious about them. Unfortunately, it is often the latter rather than the former which happens in discussions like these. Hence, I discharged your question with a ‘no,’ because I didn’t want to bore you with the details of the historical context of the verse. My apologies if this got a bit long-winded.

        As far as my response to the second question, I think it would be worth keeping in mind the historical context there as well. I did address the point with the quote from Jesus. Give to the US what its due, and to God what God’s due. I’m not sure how I could answer it more adequately than that! Using Paul in the manner you’re using him fails to acknowledge the context of his writings.

        Not only that, but I think you’re wrong in saying that the people alone were the source of authority for the government. By Paul’s definition, authority is from God. Period. What people do with the authority is not up to God, but the authority itself is from God. I mean the objection you have here seems odd considering the Roman government certainly didn’t think the Judeo-Christian God was the source of their authority… yet Paul clearly says that their authority is from God. So your dilemma is false.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | June 1, 2011, 9:09 AM
  2. Paul’s intentions and audience are irrelevant to my question, which is:

    “Were the American colonists (nearly all of them Christians), in declaring independence from George III, God’s appointed authority on earth, rejecting God’s authority in establishing a republic, and therefore commiting treason against God?”

    You argue to my first point that Paul’s statements were political expediencies to reassure the Romans that the Christians posed no threat to their rule, and that Paul’s statements addressed only that time and place. You argue to my second point that” all authority comes from God. Period.” This implies an imperative, applicable to all times and all places. Which is it?

    Were not the British far superior to the Romans in ” adaquately carrying out its duties of punishing the evil and permitting the good?” If this is the purpose of government, and the British king was adaquately carrying out these duties as God’s appointed authority, by what right did the colonists rebel against him?

    As to my second question, it is not I making the statement” political authority derives from the people.” The US Constitution says it, the Founders said it, the defintion of a republic says it, and Abraham Lincoln said it, when he said our government is “…of the people, by the people, for the people.” Not to carry out God’s plan, not to punish the evil and encourage the good, but to carry out the people’s will and carry forward their interests. Were they wrong?

    You said you want Christians to “put their money where their mouth is.” I agree. Let Christians decide: Does authority come God, as Paul said? If so, then let them say they reject the foundations of the American government. If they accept the American constitutional system, let them admit that Paul, and therefore the Bible, is in error. The dilemma is not mine; it’s yours.

    Posted by deadweasel | June 1, 2011, 7:24 PM
    • The problem is that your assumption is that if someone says “My authority comes from x” that makes it true. Such is the case with the Constitution. Even were it to say “The authority of the U.S. Government is absolutely not from God, it’s from the people” that would not by itself make the statement true. I’m not sure why there is still confusion on this point. Perhaps an example would help:

      Suppose, for the sake of argument, that God exists. And by “God” I mean the God of classical theism: omnis/sovereign/etc. Now suppose I were to get a bunch of friends together and write a book saying “We don’t owe God anything. He didn’t create the universe! We created earth, and everything on it!” Would that make the statement true? Obviously not.

      Yet similarly, even were the Constitution to explicitly deny the derivation of authority from God, that would not make it the case. And, as I pointed out, the Roman government clearly did not believe its authority was from God, yet Paul is talking specifically about the Roman government when he says their authority is from God. Hopefully that clears up the confusion.

      Now I don’t see how you can seriously say “Paul’s intentions and audience are irrelevant to my question…” when the question itself gains its bite from what Paul wrote. I mean, what Paul means by what he wrote obviously has relevance here–otherwise you wouldn’t ask the question! Also, I never said that Paul’s writing was not a universal rule; I said, and I quote, “Yet that doesn’t mean that Paul meant one could never rebel against the governing authorities. In fact, one can see this when he says that one should be in subjection to the government…. for the sake of conscience…” You’ve obviously taken it to be a black and white either/or case. I’ve submitted that it is not. The case I’ve submitted–and mind you, this is based upon the context of Paul’s intent and audience–is that Paul was writing generally to all that we should submit to the governing authorities, whose power is from God–as we know by our conscience. Specifically, he singled out the Roman government. But, as I pointed out, this does not preclude rebellion against an evil government.

      Now, the specific question of whether the American Founders were in the wrong in the rebellion–I think that is less a question of Christian liberty than it is a question of politics. And I stand by my previous answer(s). Simply put: the government with authority over me is the United States–therefore, I give to said government its due. I respect and, indeed, love the United States. Whether the Founders were in err over their rebellion is a question political historians have been debating ever since it happened. If you’d like to explore the topic further, I might suggest some works. Middlekauf’s “The Glorious Cause,” for example, is a phenomenal book on this topic. As an undergrad, I was a social studies/history major and I daresay U.S. History was quite interesting. But your attempts to turn this into a church vs. state thing are becoming more obviously subversive. Rather than trying to paint me as something I’m not, why don’t you explore the interesting topic yourself?

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | June 1, 2011, 10:50 PM
      • Another quick note I’d like to make is that while authority of governments comes from God, that does not mean God ordains/sanctions everything a government does. I think I tried to draw out this distinction before. But it is important to remember.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | June 1, 2011, 11:00 PM
  3. The preamble to the Constitution states explicitly where its authority comes from in the first three words-We the people. What part of those three words don’t you get?

    Nothing comes from any gods. Deny it all you want but America is and was designed to be a secular country.

    Posted by John Thomson | June 3, 2011, 1:58 PM

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